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S.Sudan govt, rebels prepare to head for peace talks

AFP , Wednesday 1 Jan 2014
South Sudan
A food distribution by the World Food Programme (WFP) supported by UNMISS takes place for displaced people taking shelter in the UN compound in Bentiu, the capital of the oil-producing Unity state, in South Sudan, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 (Photo: AP)
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South Sudan's government and rebels said Wednesday they were preparing to send delegates to the Ethiopian capital for talks aimed at bringing an end to more than two weeks of civil war in the country.

The two sides said they will be attending the talks, brokered by East Africa's regional IGAD bloc, but it remained unclear when the negotiations would start.

"The delegation is supposed to go to Addis Ababa, but so far it is not yet confirmed who will be going," South Sudan's government spokesman Michael Makuei told AFP in the capital Juba, adding that President Salva Kiir had yet to confirm the make-up of his negotiating team.

A spokesman for the rebels, who are grouped around former vice president Riek Machar, also said their peace delegation had yet to set off.

"We are prepared. Our delegation is not yet in Addis Ababa. At any moment the IGAD peace mediators will come and pick them up," Moses Ruai said.

The IGAD bloc has said that negotiations "will focus on a monitored ceasefire" before more talks to settle "underlying political problems".

The fighting started on December 15, when President Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup. Machar has denied this, in turn accusing the president of conducting a violent purge of his opponents.

The fighting has spread across the country, with the rebels seizing several areas in the oil-rich north. On Tuesday the rebels also recaptured the town of Bor, capital of Jonglei state and situated just 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Juba.

Thousands of people have died, UN officials say, while close to 200,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes -- many seeking refuge with UN peacekeepers -- amid an upsurge of ethnic violence pitting members of Kiir's Dinka tribe against Machar's Nuer community.

On Tuesday Machar told AFP via satellite phone from an unknown location inside South Sudan that he was not yet ready to agree to an immediate ceasefire and that his forces were marching on the capital Juba.

"There is no cessation of hostilities yet," Machar said. "That is what the delegation going to Addis Ababa is going to discuss and to negotiate. I will follow later, once the negotiations have resulted in a cessation of hostilities. It depends on if and when that is achieved."

South Sudan is the world's youngest nation, having won independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war.

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